Bowing to pressure from the public, the government on Tuesday withdrew a draft policy that sought to control secured online communication, including through mass-use social media and web applications such as WhatsApp and Twitter.
Communications and information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad announced the government’s decision at a news conference, saying the draft National Encryption Policy will be reviewed before it is again presented to the public for their suggestions.
“I read the draft. I understand that the manner in which it is written can lead to misconceptions. I have asked for the draft policy to be withdrawn and reworded,” Prasad said. He said the draft would be re-released, but did not say when it would be made public.
“Experts had framed a draft policy...This draft policy is not the government’s final view,” he added. “There were concerns in some quarters. There were some words (in the draft policy) that caused concern.”
Government pulls back data encryption policy after backlash
The draft will be reviewed and experts will be asked to specify to whom the policy will be applicable, Prasad said. He did not say when the new draft will be made public.
Those using social media platforms and web applications fell outside the scope of an encryption policy, Prasad said.
Several countries have felt the need for an encryption policy because of the boom in e-commerce and e-governance, he remarked. “Cyber space interactions are on the rise. There are concerns about security. We need a sound encryption policy,” he said.
Before Prasad announced the withdrawal of the draft policy, the government had issued an addendum early on Tuesday to keep social media and web applications like WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook out of its purview.
Secure banking transactions and password protected e-commerce businesses too will be kept out of the ambit of the proposed policy, the addendum said.
The climb down by the government came following a storm of protests from users who objected to any stringent state controls on the use of email, social media accounts and apps.
According to the original draft , users of apps such as WhatsApp and Snapchat would be required to save all messages for up to 90 days and be able to produce them if asked by authorities.
Experts told Hindustan Times the draft policy, if implemented in its current form, could compromise the privacy of users and hamper the functioning of several multi-national service providers in India.
Nikhil Pahwa, editor of the MediaNama website that tracks cyber issues and tech news, said there were several problems even with the addendum to the draft policy.
“The usage of the phrase ‘currently in use’ renders the policy vague: Firstly, when is 'currently'?" he questioned in a post on his website.
"Will a new service that uses a different kind of encryption to protect its users, still be covered? Why should users be 'restricted to encryption currently in use'? Why should services like Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter define our security standards?" said Pahwa, who also volunteers for savetheinternet.in.
Pranesh Prakash, policy director for The Centre for Internet and Society, tweeted that even the addendum “does not clarify anything, but further muddles the encryption policy”.
Social media users called the draft “draconian” and “delusional”, and Congress leader Manish Tewari too attacked the Union government.
“The encryption policy (draft) is a snooping and spying orgy. After net chats, the government may want you to keep a video record of what you do in your bedroom for 90 days,” the Congress spokesperson told reporters.
The draft policy had been posted online last week to seek suggestions from the public.